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Review: Adriana Lecouvreur at Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Review by Nola Bartolo

The co-production between Opera Australia, Teatro Comunale Di Bologna and Fundacion Opera de Oviedo premiered Francesco Cilea’s single opera Adriana Lecouvreur on Monday February 20 and it was in a word, entertaining.

I am not going to lie, this was my first ever Opera and I went in feeling rather daunted with the task of reviewing Adriana Lecouvreur and also excited. I got dressed up and really made the most of going to see an international performance of a relatively unknown opera. (Well at least in my very limited knowledge of this genre.) I am very glad that I got all frocked up because the audience in attendance really did make a night of it.

The opera is based on an episode in the life of the French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692–1730). Although several of the people in the opera are real historical characters, the story is largely fictional.

The opera opens backstage at Paris’s Comédie-Française where Adriana receives her lover Maurizio, who she believes is a humble soldier. In reality, he is the impoverished Count of Saxony, hoping to shore up his political fortunes through the agency of his other lover, the wealthy Princess de Bouillon.

Later that evening, Maurizio visits the Princess and admits he no longer loves her. Hearing her husband and the troupe of actors outside, the Princess hides and Maurizio asks Adriana to help her escape unseen. The two women quarrel in the dark and the Princess drops a bracelet, allowing Adriana later to discover her identity.

The following day, Adriana seizes the opportunity during a performance to publicly shame the Princess. By way of revenge, the latter sends her rival posy of violets – Adriana and Maurizio’s favourite flowers – laced with a fatal poison.

Unfortunately, the international star Ermonela Jaho who was to play lead role of Adriana was sick and an announcement was made just before the performance that the role would now be played by Armenian –Australian soprano, Natalie Aroyan. She did a splendid job considering that she was brought in on short notice.

The performance was in four acts and each act represented a different time and era. 1730, 1860, 1930 and 1968. The director Rosetta Cucchi’s decision to do this was in my opinion very clever. For it is true that love transcends time. It was exquisite to watch the elaborate and complicated costumes and sets in the early acts fade to a simple black stage and chic Parisian black fashions of the 60’s in the final act.

Maurizio played by Michael Fabiano was outstanding, His voice impeccable and the second act between Fabiano and Carmen Topciu who played The Principessa was the moment that I could surrender and get lost in the drama, the music, the emotion and the magic of the Opera. Initially I struggled with trying to follow the story and the dialogue as I was moving my head up and down to read the subtitles and watch the scene, as well as appreciate the music. But once I accepted this the performance popped.

In Act Three the audience was treated to a ballet of The Judgement of Paris. This was spectacular with the Opera Australia dancers especially the aerialist Brendan Irving. The incorporation of so many styles really kept me engaged. My only point of confusion and it is a tiny point at that, was that the video content did not match the late change of lead actresses. I guess this is the risk we take when using footage pre-recorded.

Overall, I absolutely enjoyed my first ever experience of the Opera and would definitely recommend that you go and see this fabulous performance of Adriana Lecouvreur. Playing until March 7. Don’t miss it and don’t stay away just because you don’t normally go to the Opera. Get dressed up and make an evening of it. I will be back to Opera Australia that is for sure.

Image Credit: Guy Davies and Keith Saunders


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